The Social Evolution of the Term “Half-Caste” in Britain: The Paradox of its Use as Both Derogatory Racial Category and Self-Descriptor



The term “half-caste” had its origins in nineteenth century British colonial administrations, emerging in the twentieth century as the quotidian label for those whose ancestry comprised multiple ethnic/racial groups, usually encompassing “White”. From the 1920s–1960s the term was used in Britain as a derogatory racial category associated with the moral condemnation of “miscegenation”. Yet today the label continues to be used as a self-descriptor and even survives in some official contexts. This paradox – of both derogatory racial category and self descriptor – is explored in the context of the term's social evolution, drawing upon the theoretical constructs of the internal-external dialectic of identification and labelling theory.